صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

VERE OF OURS, THE EIGHTH OR KING'S.

BY JAMES GRANT,

AUTHOR OF THE ROMANCE OF WAR,' 'UNDER THE RED DRAGON,' 'ONE OF THE SIX HUNDRED, ETC.

CHAPTER XXVI.

THE BLACK INSURRECTION.

THE crisis had come. The revolt of the negroes under Bogle, Moreno, and others-the revolt, of which none could precisely see the end-had taken place!

On the evening we left Vere getting his small party under arms in hot haste, vast armed mobs, intent on vengeance, they scarcely knew for what, were approaching Morant Bay.

It would seem that, on a preceding day, a negro, said to be from Mango Garden, was brought up for trial before the justices, accused of certain crimes and misdemeanours; but ere the proceedings closed, a numerous band of black peasantry, from the neighbouring estates, led by Quashy, Mr. Bellingham's giant negro, preceded by a band of music, and all armed with bludgeons or other weapons, surrounded the Courthouse, and publicly avowed their determination to rescue the prisoner if he was convicted.

By order of Baron Ketelhodt, an attempt was made to seize Quashy and others who were prominent; but that sable personage-strong in the belief that, by means of an Obeah, he possessed some magic superiority, which alike protected him against wounds and the danger of being taken prisoner by any white man-burst into the Courthouse at the head of his wild

VOL. XXII.

rabble, all inflamed with new rum, as maddening in its effect, at times, as the hempseed or bhang of the Hindoos, and rescued the culprit.

A solitary constable boldly offered resistance, but was appalled by the aspect of Quashy, now stripped to the waist, and wearing only a pair of short red and white striped cotton trousers, fastened by a belt which held a knife and pair of old brass-butted pistols. Towering above all his compeers, in the red glow of the setting sun that shone through a window of the hall, his herculean form had something, in its muscular rigidity and activity, of a demoniacal aspect, as with one hand he tore the black felon out of the dock, and by the other stretched the luckless constable at his feet, accompanying each rapid act with a yell like the roar of a wild animal.

To seize him by numbers wa impossible then; the conviction that he was impervious to lead or steel imbued him with a mad and blind confidence that rendered him fearless; and any negro, who might have been disposed to law and order, had too wholesome a fear of his Obeah, his power and vengeance to attempt obstruction or remonstrance; so Quashy bore off his man in triumph, accompanied by Manuel Moreno, for whose whose apprehension, on other charges, warrants had long been

out.

No further riot than this rescue

LL

from justice appears to have ensued at that time; and, singular to say, the magistrates thought so little of the occurrence-startling though it was that they took no immediate steps to communicate with the executive government.

Shortly after warrants were issued for the capture of some thirty of those most prominent in this outrage; but the strange wild notes of the conch-shell were heard in all quarters, among the plantations, in the woods, the canebrakes, and the villages; and the negroes gathered in bands - in many instances under their long since and secretly chosen captains -of fifty, but armed now with pikes, cutlasses, muskets, and bayonets, and put all authority at defiance in and about Morant Bay.

On receiving tidings of this revolt from the custos, Baron Ketelhodt, the Governor of Jamaica lost not a moment in getting succour from the general commanding at Kingston, and a strong detachment, to reinforce Vere and keep order, was instantly detailed from the garrison; while Kyrle Desborough with all speed was sent to Captain de Horsey, the senior naval officer at Port Royal, to request that a man-of-war should take the troops without delay round by the Palisades and Yallas Bay to their destination. That officer lost no time in getting his ship ready for sea. She was the Wolverine, of twenty-one guns and 400 horse-power. In eight hours from the time the tidings of a revolt reached Kingston, the required troops were on their way; but meanwhile affairs had come to a crisis at Morant Bay, and a terrible massacre of English people had taken place.

On the evening in question, when Vere had come in such haste from Mango Garden, so confidently was an outbreak antici

pated that every planter and white man had repaired to Morant Bay, with the best arms they could collect-swords, revolvers, and doublebarrelled rifles; but instead of taking these means of defence with them into the Court-house-their general rendezvous-they foolishly left them at hotels or in the houses of friends in the town; while to the volunteers, who had been ordered out by Baron Ketelhodt, only ten rounds of ammunition per man were served out.

The meeting to consult on the state of affairs took place, and then it was noticed by the baron and others that the black landed proprietor, Mr. G. W. Gordon, whose name became so fatally conspicuous, whose duty it was to be present, and who was always conspicuously so, was now absent.

So numerous and well armed were the negro bands, so incessant were the blowing of conch-shells and the ready responses to them from all quarters, so ominous was the bearing and so open the threats of the entire coloured population, that Captain Hitchins, who commanded the volunteers, objected to a man of them leaving his post even for a moment to procure refreshments; and he barely had them formed upon their regular place of parade when a messenger came galloping up.

'They are coming-they are coming from the plantations everywhere!' cried this personage; they are coming in thousands, and will be upon you!'

But ere the volunteers, after being joined by Vere's little party, were drawn up in front of the Court-house, the rebels had routed the armed police, sacked the station, and appropriated every musket and cartridge in the place.

In front of the seat of authority a vast mass of maddened negroes, excited by rum, the hope of licence

of every kind, in which murder and robbery were but minor elements, surged and seethed and yelled to and fro, their yellow eyeballs shining with a species of infernal joy, their white teeth glistening like those of sharks, their whole gestures and aspects-their very antics-savouring of something diabolical and infinitely dangerous, as they were all well, though variously, armed with muskets and fixed bayonets, cutlasses, fish-spears, long poles with billhooks attached to them, or stones or bottles; and, led by a powerful negro with a pistol in each hand, they advanced in an unwieldy mob across the courtyard, accompanied by a truly infernal discordance of horns, conches, drums, yells, and shouts; while, scared and terrified, those of the white population whose windows overlooked the scene, and who all knew their able defenders were few, gazed with blanched faces and fearful hearts upon the catastrophe that rapidly ensued.

Vere looked everywhere, even with his field-glass, among the seething mass in front; but was unable, in the mingled light of the stars and torches, to discover either Manuel Moreno or his fidus Achates Quashy, and his heart sank within him with the very natural dread that they were at the work of outrage elsewhere.

Unarmed, as they nearly all foolishly were, by their own unpardonable oversight, the white gentlemen rushed from within to man the Court-house door, while Baron Ketelhodt, with a loud voice, besought all to keep the peace.

'By golly, we want no peace! was the united shout of all; and to evince this, showers of missiles were poured among the troops, and three volunteers-Cap

tain Hitchins, Sergeant McGowan, and Ross, a private-fell severely wounded, the latter mortally, as an eye was scooped out of his head, and he died soon after.

Waving a white handkerchief to show that he wanted peace, the baron, amid a shower of missiles hurled by cowardly and savage hands, continued to read the Riot Act, prior to which ceremony the troops could not fire; and while this form, of which the negroes were ignorant, was in process, Vere felt his blood at fever-heat, as the words of the baron were met by senseless shouts of derision, and, closing in upon the volunteers, the negroes, while uttering most diabolical threats, struck up their weapons and proceeded to hurl stones, bottles, and brick-bats through the windows of the Courthouse; so the crash of glass and frames mingled now with the terrible medley of sound on every hand.

At last the Riot Act was read; then Vere gave the order for his little party to wheel up en potence on the flank of the volunteers, and thus a cross fire of fifty yards, without sighting the rifles, was poured upon the rebels, who fell over each other in shrieking heaps. But the rest, on suddenly being joined by 500 well-armed negroes from another point, undeterred by the deaths or wounds of their comrades, made a simultaneous rush upon the troops, and completely overpowered the small body of volunteers (at whom their hate and vengeance seemed chiefly directed), and, separating them from Vere's party, compelled them to retreat in one direction; while he, keeping the blacks in check with the bayonet, fell back a little way, and was finally compelled, by the pressure of numbers, to retire towards the granary, as the volunteers had fled into the Court

house, from the shattered windows of which they fired briskly, while their wretched ten rounds per man lasted, on the wild hordes of infuriated rebels who surged around the building-infuriated all the more that they had drawn and tasted blood, and become excited by the genuine negro lust of carnage and cruelty.

Tired of firing back at the Courthouse windows, even after the volunteers and the helpless creatures within had expended their ammunition, the rebels determined to change their tactics. A strong west wind was blowing from the hills that look down on the Morant river, and of this they resolved to avail themselves, and set fire to the edifice (which was constructed of the most inflammable material) on its western side. More than once they had failed to force a passage into the building, against the door of which they had been led by the unknown negro referred to, in rear of whom the sable rabble spread out fanwise, or, if we may be pardoned the pedantic simile, like the Roman triangle at the battle of Ecnomus or the double phalanx of Epaminondas, though the mass of its component parts bore personally, in attire, a pretty close resemblance to the grotesque and would-be dandy nigger minstrels of Whitechapel and Mile End, with the genuine plantation nigger bare to the waist and below the knee, but in heart and spirit like to incarnate demons.

Torches were now brought in numbers, and in their glare the frightful horde of negroes could be distinctly seen, armed with muskets and bayonets, billhooks and pikes, all yelling, and in some instances pitchforks seemed to form devilish horns to the dark faces. One leader harangued them vehemently; but none listened to him, as all were intent on

whetting each other's spirit of vengeance by singing the famous negro song of Jamaica,

'Massa, me no dead yet-carry um along!"

According to local tradition, about the beginning of the present century, the father of Mr. Bellingham, when any of his slaves became old or useless, was in the habit of having them borne to a certain rocky hollow on his estate, and left there to be devoured by kites or wild animals, before life had departed, to the end, it was alleged, that he might be saved the cost of their maintenance. But it chanced on one occasion that a poor wretchthe father of Quashy-who was being thus disposed of, had strength left to say, 'Me no dead yet, massa,' and implored pity. Carry him along,' was the stern response; so Quashy the elder was left in the hollow, stripped, to his fate, which he contrived to escape by crawling out and reaching Kingston, where, many months after, he was met by his former master, who, though astonished, had still presence of mind to claim the 'dead alive,' who afterwards lived to a great old age, under the care and protection of Virginia's father, a planter of a very different stamp and character. But the episode, brief as it is, gives us a forcible idea of the slave system as it once existed in the Antilles; and now the song made upon it, chorused by thousands of hoarse, guttural, and unmusical voices, rolled out like thunder on the night, accompanied by the twangle of banjos and blowing of conch-shells, while fire was being applied, as we have said, on the windward side of the large wooden Court-house, and bodies of the rebels formed a close cordon around it, to slaughter all who might attempt to escape.

Among those within it were the Baron von Ketelhodt and his son,

many magistrates, Captain Hitchins and the survivors of his volunteer force, with several other gentlemen, including the rector of Morant Bay and his three

sons.

In a few minutes the edifice was a mass of flame, and the molten lead from the roof began to run through certain openings upon the unfortunate creatures below, many of whom were helpless and streaming with blood from gun-shot wounds; and so inflammable were the materials of the building, that it was evident the impending descent of the roof would cause the destruction of all.

It was determined to make a rush and attempt to break through, though shots were now flying in all directions, and those who fell under them were fortunate in escaping a more terrible death.

A few found temporary shelter in an adjacent edifice; but it too was fired, and all were driven forth by the flames to a terrible fate at the hands of the negroes; for then commenced, we are told, 'those fearful and bloody acts, which were only paralleled by the massacre at Cawnpore. The cries for mercy, the savage yells of the women hounding on the men, as each new victim was discovered, and the heavy thuds of the cutlasses on the bodies of the butchered, were heard above the rattle of the musketry (for Vere's men had opened fire again) and the hissing of the devouring flames. The Baron von Ketelhodt, the Rev. Mr. Hershel, and Lieutenant Hall were beaten to death with sticks. Captain Hitchins, faint with the loss of blood, owing to his numerous wounds, and utterly unable to resist, was slowly hacked to death by a negro with a cutlass, who sat down to his diabolical work as coolly as if he had been chopping wood. The Rev. Mr. Hershel's tongue was cut out,

and the fingers of Baron Ketelhodt were severed from his hands.'

Save two, who were left for dead, with frightful wounds, the entire volunteer force perished, and with them nearly all the principal inhabitants of the district. In some instances the brains were scooped out of the heads of the victims, mixed with rum, and drunk amid shrieks and yells of savage exultation.

All unforeseeing such a terrible catastrophe as this, so perished these unfortunate creatures, at the very time when their wives and families were awaiting their return to their snug and pleasant villas embowered among groves of orange, shaddock, and lemon trees.

Maddened by all these awful proceedings, and the desolation that seemed coming over the once flourishing town of Morant Bay, Vere felt inclined to rush on and seek dire vengeance with the bayonet; and had he proposed it, every one with him, from Toby Finch to his drumboy, would have followed him. But a moment's reflection showed him that he, and every one there, would have perished amid that armed horde, without effecting anything; for though a brave fellow, Vere was not rash. The true hero,' it has been justly said, 'is not he who cannot realise death, and who dashes on the enemy's guns, confident that they will not harm him; but rather the man who, having calculated the possibilities, and feeling that death is most probably in store for him, nevertheless girds up his loins with the courage, not of unconsciousness, but of determination, and prepares him for the fight.'

Midnight saw the horrible massacre end, when the negroes, intoxicated with rum, excitement, and the lust of bloodshed, hurried off in small parties, to attack the isolated plantations, and carry the

« السابقةمتابعة »